Planning to head to the multiplex to catch Mockingjay – Part I this weekend? You will be in good global company as the latest movie in The Hunger Games franchise dominates the box office in both North America and Europe. It may never match the earnings of its predecessor Catching Fire, but according to the trade publication Variety it looks set to be the seventh-largest grossing film in the United States in 2014, while The Guardian reports it is doing particularly well in Latin America as foreign box office increasingly becomes Hollywood's best hope for growth.
Booming foreign box office is precisely the reason the Chinese will not be seeing Mockingjay until January. Authorities in China control how many foreign films are screened there and Mockingjay has been denied a 2014 spot, delaying its release until the new year. Hollywood movies have already overtaken Chinese productions at the box office this year; analysts speculate there is no room for The Hunger Games juggernaut pushing the domestic number yet further below 50 per cent. Try again in 2015, Mockingjay.
There must be days when Carolle Brabant, head of the Canadian film-funding agency Telefilm, wishes she had the powers of a Chinese censor. Telefilm ceased directly reporting Canadian films' share of Canadian box office a few years ago, but it's usually around 2 per cent. The agency recently released its 2013-14 annual report and will hold a public meeting in Ottawa on Monday to discuss the year that was. If you read the fine print in the report, you'll discover it wasn't a great one: Canadian titles accounted for 11 per cent of the box-office dollars that were spent on independent film, but because studio films account for more than 75 per cent of the market, that leaves us, once again, at around 2 per cent.
With smaller production budgets, insufficient marketing budgets and uneven distribution, Canadian films rarely make a big impression on Canadian audiences. And because Telefilm lends many of those film productions part of their budgets (which they often aren't profitable enough to pay back), the agency has a real stake in how well Canadian films do. More successes means a higher rate of recoupment for the agency, which in turn means it has more money to lend again.
Still, there is more than one way to measure success. Telefilm was trapped for a full decade in an unwinnable game established in 2000, when Ottawa gave it the unrealistic goal of raising the rate to 5 per cent. Finally, the agency just moved the goal posts. In 2011, it began measuring each year's progress based on a shopping basket of criteria including money earned both at the box office and in other sales, and cultural success at the festivals.
That new barometer, which Telefilm says is gaining attention from its foreign counterparts, is a more accurate representation of a film's life. Not only does it recognize that critical success is an important measure of return on a cultural investment, it also acknowledges that Canadians mainly watch movies at home, not in cinemas, so that TV deals and DVD sales are just as important measures as the almighty box office.
So, under this new system, 2013-14 was – drum roll please – an 83. A what? An 83, based on setting the performance of Canadian films in 2010-11 as a base of 100. The first year went up a bit to 106; the second year was 96, and in 2013-14, the measure fell to 83 because of, well, a disappointing box office.
There is good news in the offing, though: The success of Mommy, Xavier Dolan's compelling portrait of a disturbed teenager that won the jury prize at Cannes, will be factored into 2014-15 and the year now under way includes several titles you'll recognize, such as the FLQ terrorism drama Corbo, the Toronto rom-com The F Word (a Canadian-Irish co-production) and David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars (a Canadian-U.S. co-production). Expect to hear movies, such as those named as Canada's top 10 by the Toronto International Film Festival, on Monday, when a jury there announces its choices for its mini-fest of Canadian film, held every January.
Don't expect Daniel Radcliffe of The F Word or Julianne Moore of Maps to the Stars to be walking the red carpet after Monday's announcement; they aren't Canadian, but they are the kind of big-name stars that bring more attention to Canadian-produced films that, at their best, can stand out as a lively brand of indie cinema. Maps to the Stars is a satire of Hollywood, after all.